BYOS supporter Sarah wears the Orange Little Bar of Strength to share her story of healing and overcoming illness at a young age.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
It is our own responsibility to be able to recognise when we are stuck, and to let our loved ones know that we are struggling. Sometimes we need more than reassurance and soothing. Especially in times of crises, when the people who care for us do not have the tools to help, we can always reach out to a professional. There are lots of mental health services that are widely available online and locally. Jigsaw is the National Centre for Youth Mental Health. Their services are free and accessible. They provide a directory of counselling services; research on youth mental health and other useful mental health resources on their website. So make sure to check it out, not just for yourself; if you know someone who is struggling simply link it to them. Mental health care can be simple if we take responsibility for taking care of ourselves and each other.
TAKE YOUR TIME
It is incredibly difficult and brave thing to experience illness and overcome it at a very young age. When a person goes through trauma or illness at a young age it can colour their perspective. The experience of prolonged pain, whether emotional or physical, impacts the way we view the world, the people around us and our own bodies.
As has been mentioned in the first part of the How To Series– How To: Love Your Body— change is the only constant in life. It is vital to reiterate this point. One of the major mood or mindset that we fall into when we are unwell is to think that our pain whether physical or emotional–or both–is going to last forever. Resist the pressure to rush recovery. Take your time. As we go through our journey of healing, we will start to see and feel the positive changes in our bodies and our minds. We will begin to relate to people differently, with more compassion and understanding. In Western culture, we have a tendency to rush the process of recovery. This is mainly down to Capitalism and its influence on society and culture–making it necessary to maintain a rapid means of production. The archetypal image of unwavering strength does not include weakness. We say slow and steady wins the race but we buy into the narratives of the ‘overnight success’. So we can’t afford to waste any time on feeling sad or being ill. When we fall on difficult times we blame ourselves and see it as a necessity to whip ourselves into shape, to stop wallowing, to get back on the horse and take our place in the race. All to avoid being called a failure or thought of as a loser. We can choose to approach our mental and physical health with kindness, patience and an attitude of ‘getting better with lots of care and time’.
FEEL YOUR FEELINGS
We can start to make friends with our feelings. Don’t push uncomfortable feelings and thoughts away, it makes them more likely to pop up at random and more inconvenient times, like when we are trying to sleep. The Philosopher Alain de Botton defined insomnia as “the mind’s revenge for all the thoughts you were careful not to have in the day.” In his own words
“our minds are not daft!” Just as we wouldn’t purposefully ignore a friend who was trying to tell us they are struggling mentally, we can learn to pay full attention to our minds trying to inform us that we are not feeling as well as we could be.
It is easy to ignore our feelings, especially if our bodies are functioning at our usual productive rate.
We get out of bed, get ready, leave the house, commute to work or school. All the while our minds are screaming, insisting on a difficult feeling or thought that our conscious mind would rather not address. We push it aside; it’s a bother, it’s distracting from our daily grind.
We are under pressure. We can’t afford to be sad, it’s actually quite embarrassing. We need to stop it before it disrupts our plans, our lives, our fun. The reality is negative thoughts and feelings left unaddressed can eventually disrupt our lives in damaging ways. So start expressing instead of repressing your feelings.
When we experience negative feelings or pain, it can leave us feeling helpless and powerless and a natural response to that can be anger and frustration. Anger in itself is not bad, it is the way we choose to respond to it that can be dangerous. There are ways to express anger in constructive and creative ways, instead of lashing out at ourselves or others, which can be destructive.
Buy a punching bag or take up boxing. High intensity sports are good ways to release rage and get some exercise at the same time. Activities like sprinting, dancing, boxing, tennis, football and cross-fit depend on repeated explosive bursts of speed and energy. They exhaust the body and release tonnes of endorphins, flooding the mind and body with positive feelings.
Breath *deep and slow* through the pain. Sometimes pain can be overwhelming and can make us feel like we can’t move or breath. Knowing how to keep breathing can help alleviate periods of intense pain and panic. Practising deep breathing is vital for improving and maintaining lung strength. In time of high stress and pressure on the body (think athletes and pregnant women) it is important to perform a deep breathing exercise to prepare the body or support the body when it is experiencing acute stress. There are 5 basic steps to perform the ‘4-7-8’ deep breathing method:
- sit upright or lie down in a comfortable position (ideally with your back arched against a wall or chair, or lying on your back, not on your belly or side –don’t obstruct the chest)
- Inhale through your nose…on 4 counts
- Breathe deeply from the diaphragm….hold for 7 seconds
- Exhale through your mouth…on 8 counts
- Repeat till you feel calm or energised
Its okay to cry, everyday or once in a little while. Researchers have found that crying is highly beneficial for releasing toxins and reducing stress. We all have a desire to cry sometimes when we are in hard, stressful or painful situations. So pick a spot, at home, in work, in school or whenever the mood take you, and let it all out– scream, shout, cry your pain out. If you need to have a good cry but find it hard to actually cry, watch a really sad film on tv or go see a tear-jerker in the cinema, that way it’s guaranteed that other people will be crying with you. Make sure to bring lots of tissues. Or call up a friend. Someone you trust to perform emotional first-aid on you (make sure this relationship is reciprocal). We all need a shoulder to cry from time to time, and we can endeavour to offer up our listening ears as well, whenever we can.
Write down *all your feelings and thoughts. Journaling is a useful and increasing popular resource that helps us touch base with our feelings and keep track of our day to day experiences. Journals are usually cheap, if you’re just purchasing a basic A2 or pockets sized notebook it should cost between €2–€8 depending on design and store. Or you can opt for an e-journal. There are many types which are available for free or offer a free trial, which can be downloaded on Android Play Store or Apple App Store. All you need is to make time, between 10 minutes to an hour daily to sit down with your journal or e-journal. Pause from your task or daydreaming and ask yourself ‘How Am I Feeling? Then write freely, no judgement or self-analysis. Just write it all down.
Pain is a part of the narrative, it is not the full story. Look out for the little spots of light shooting through dark gloomy clouds. The heaviness will pass, or become bearable with time.
The effort we put into developing coping mechanisms pays off, when we go through hell, but we don’t stop there, we come out on the other side. Better and stronger than before.
The feeling of emotional or physical pain can sometimes cloud over our everyday life but we don’t have to allow misery to overshadow every experience we have. Granted that’s easier said than done because pain can be overwhelming and debilitating, both physically and mentally.
That’s why in difficult times it is important to find perspective, to reach out to others in similar situations, and to take time and be gentle with our pain. That in itself is a type of success.